According to the plan presented today, NASA will lower its restrictions on the for-profit and marketing activities of the space station. Companies will now be able to pay astronauts to help them advertise their products and use the space station's facilities for manufacturing and other lucrative activities. Initially, NASA limited the crew time that can be purchased at 90 hours and 175 kilograms of commercial freight per year. NASA also announced that it would open the space station to short stays of commercial astronauts traveling in private spacecraft, which could begin as early as next year. In addition, NASA announced that it would read the latest open port on the ISS, where a new module could be associated, to a private company, and expect this contract by the end of the year. # 39; exercise. "We are trying to remove the barriers that have existed for some time and see what the private sector can do to develop a business plan," said Jeff DeWit, chief financial officer of NASA.
Last month, NASA released great study This shows how leading companies such as Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are considering taking advantage of the ISS. As stated in the report, the space station could become a tourist hotel. Or a manufacturing center. Or test bench for satellite technology and independent space stations. NASA's 2019 budget provided $ 40 million for its LEO business development program, but up to now, the way this money would be used was not clear. According to NASA officials, this money will be used to achieve the goals set by the companies in the study, but the details will depend on the proposals submitted by the companies.
The peddling of the ISS fits into a broader trend that equates to NASA sells its assets to private companies. In 2017, the agency announced that the Kennedy Space Center, launch site for the Apollo and Shuttle missions, would become a "multi-user spaceport"A euphemism for renting many of its facilities to private contractors." And last year, NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, said The Washington Post It was the transfer of the ISS to a conglomerate when funding ends in 2024. (The NASA Inspector General's office said that this ambition was unrealistic and that the Trump administration was no longer finalizing funding for the project. ISS). Bridenstine also convened a committee to explore ways to market NASA, and even launched the idea to sell naming rights to rockets.
Vice President Mike Pence, the administration's chief spokesman for space policy, makes the takeover of space assets by the company the mainstay of his policy. As I have put it At a meeting of the National Space Council last year, "there is no reason for our own federal government to oppose the pioneering companies that are forging and shaping restore American leadership in space ".
But maybe there is a reason. Trump administration is the first to try to privatize the low Earth orbit and the space station, this honor goes to Ronald Reagan, the other celebrity became president. While Reagan was advocating for the creation of the ISS, I incorporated privatization in its infancy. A noted follower of space, UFOs and science fiction, Reagan has asked NASA to rewrite old laws to make NASA easier to market. Now, many of the initiatives that I am doing are taking place under Trump, embedded in the same rhetoric of the free market and the same emotional calls to American leaders.
Despite Reagan's optimism about the glorious future of space capitalism, the market was not ready to support his plans. We do not know if this will be the case today.
"It's like an impression of déjà vu," said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of political science at George Washington University, who had expressed skepticism about Reagan's marketing schedule in the 1980s. "We are back to where we were. "
When Reagan was sworn in as president in 1981, NASA's space shuttle program was not even 10 years old. I campaigned on the idea that free markets and private enterprise were the key to American prosperity, and these ideas quickly found their place in the government's space program. His National Space Policy including the expansion of private sector participation. As Logsdon notes in his recent book, Ronald Reagan and the space border"This was the first time that the government has promoted commercial space activities in national space policy".
The Reagan administration acted quickly to translate its ideas into action. First, it transferred the operation of remote sensing satellites to a private company, in particular the Landsat program. His attempts to negotiate a similar agreement around reusable launch rockets, namely the space shuttle, were less successful. The ultimate price, however, was a space station that would serve as an orbital platform for commercial activities.
In support of this vision, NASA commissioned a series of studies to find out what commercial activities could benefit from a space station in 1982. Shortly after, the NASA's director NASA, James Beggs summoned to a panel Study the "potential of private industrial and commercial development in space". The business prospects highlighted by these discussions are strangely similar to the opportunities put forward by NASA officials this week. As detailed in 1983 New York Times article, Low Earth Orbit has been promoted as a promising location for developing new pharmaceuticals, manufacturing electronics, telecommunication services and remote sensing data collection, in addition to more traditional space activities related to rocket launches and services in orbit. All in all, these commercial activities should be an entirely new multi-billion dollar market.
Reagan's dream of privatizing the low Earth orbit collapsed – literally and figuratively – on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during the flight and killed the seven astronauts on board. When shuttle flights resumed two years later, the space station's plans were in the resuscitation phase. While the Congress was preparing its budget for 1989, the Senate was strongly encouraged to provide only a minimum of funding – about $ 250 million – for its development, which is well below Reagan's request, which was close to one billion dollars. The president fought back at NASA's request and Congress finally agreed to approve $ 900 million for the development of the space station.
Reagan lived just long enough to see the first astronauts begin to inhabit the space station. In keeping with Reagan's vision, the ISS has always hosted private payloads, but its ambitions are far from satisfied. As detailed in a report Posted by the Office of the Inspector General of NASA last year, the ISS found "insufficient commercial interest … over nearly 20 years of activity", which raises big questions as to whether it can be a private investment after 2024. NASA's trip into the Nasdaq Stock Exchange can therefore be considered a kind of balloon d & # 39; test.
Nevertheless, one can not help but wonder if the agency makes the same mistakes, driven by the unrealistic demands of a presidential administration. As Logsdon notes, Reagan's efforts to commercialize space were "based on an ideology and a hope, not a reality." This administration ignored warnings that the private space industry still needed significant government subsidies and did not undertake "an independent space analysis" could compete with Earth-related equivalents, being given the high costs of operating in space. "Yet, as space historian Joan Bromberg NASA and the space industry, "Free enterprise was part of the American tradition, so promoting it in space was like defending the American way."
Thus, when Pence decrypts the commercialization of space as a patriotic mission to secure American leadership in the last frontier, he rolls up the past, relying again more on ideology and hope than on reality. . Certainly, a lot has changed since the Reagan administration. Companies like SpaceX now regularly commute between the ISS and the ISS, a mission profile formerly reserved for NASA. The commercial remote sensing industry is growing at an unprecedented rate and should become a multi-billion dollar industry over the next decade. The space telecommunications sector is also experiencing a renaissance, with companies such as SpaceX, OneWeb and even Amazon considering launching it. thousands of internet satellites in orbit in the coming years.
But through all this, the ISS has been largely ignored. NASA insists that its orbital outpost is profitable. The use of the facilities of the space station will be incredibly expensiveHowever, we still do not know if companies will find it interesting without significant government subsidies. Regardless of the outcome, when NASA visited Nasdaq this morning, it was a dream of the Reagan era come true.
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